Cloud nine: How cloud accountancy can level up your business

By Riaz Kala, associate director, Haines Watts Manchester

The pandemic helped to accelerate digital transformation, and that has included companies’ accounting systems. Haines Watts’ cloud accountancy expert Riaz Kala explains how cloud accounting can help businesses to ‘level up’ their processes and get better value from their accountants at the same time.

The days of hand-written ledgers and shoeboxes stuffed full of receipts are long gone for most companies – but you’d be surprised how many still prefer to deal with their accounts in an analogue way. Perhaps because it is closer to the way they were trained, or perhaps it feels more tangible to them. 

But the digital age is upon us. Haines Watts has been advocating the switch to digital-first accountancy for many years, and one of the impacts of the pandemic has been to accelerate that digital transformation. Companies from every sector have been clamouring to find ways to reach and sell to new audiences, and technology has been at the forefront of that.

The same goes for accounting. With a reduction in face-to-face contact, it becomes harder to hand over paperwork and files in person, so more businesses have embraced digital solutions to help streamline and speed up the process.

It’s music to our ears: we still cherish our direct client contact but switching to digital platforms means we can do so much more with the time we do have available for clients.

Migrating to the cloud

My role at Haines Watts is overseeing our cloud strategy and integrating our use of tech at every level of the business. Even prior to the pandemic, we had worked with most of our businesses to migrate them to platforms such as Xero, which meant we were well placed to deal with the challenges of remote working that the lockdowns presented.

However, we constantly review our use of tech and the way our clients use the cloud, and we are in the process now of migrating our remaining non-cloud clients onto the cloud from Excel or paper-based systems.

Even once we’ve got clients onto the cloud, that reviewing process never stops: part of our change management strategy is monitoring developments and making sure that knowledge is passed on around the business. We have training plans in place to make sure that we are always on top of the latest updates, such as Xero HQ and the new generation of features that brings.

Levelling up your accounting

At the heart of everything, though, lies our strategy for improving the flow of information to Haines Watts: when we talk about our use of the cloud, we are typically looking at three key things: Firstly, bank Feeds, ie are they using a platform such as Xero/Sage? Then comes invoice automation, and finally monthly reconciliation: how often we do speak to clients, and how often are they reconciling their information and learning from it.

Based on those stages, we have three ‘levels’ that we apply to businesses to describe their progress along the digital transformation route.

Level 1

Migration onto a cloud platform such as Xero, Sage or Quickbooks.

Level 2

Using AI, machine learning and robotic process automation to automate processes with bank feeds and rules, invoice collection and processing and payment facilitation. As processing time decreases more regular maintenance of bookkeeping software is essential for accurate and real time information.

Level 3 

Integrating apps to improve processes and cashflow and management forecasting, and industry-specific apps to help improve business operations.

A company operating at Level 3 will have fantastic integration, smooth processes and will be in a position to benefit from the insights that the available data can provide.

In addition, we are now offering clients digital health-checks and finance function reviews, and doing app research that can include more bespoke apps that could be implemented outside our standard app stack, such as electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) and stock systems.

Benefits: beyond time saving

Without complications, a ‘standard’ migration onto a digital platform can take around a day, plus the time taken to tidy up the information, but that can vary greatly from client to client depending on the complexity of their business. Once the set-up is completed, the time taken to doing so is quickly recovered.

The time-saving alone is a compelling reason to embrace cloud accountancy, but the benefits go way beyond getting rid of the physical paper trail and saving time. 

That extensive stack of digital apps can offer huge strategic and analytical benefits if they are integrated in the right way.

One of Haines Watts’ core values is that we offer true insight to our clients, working with them to do far more than simply crunch the numbers. Moving to digital buys us the time to nurture that relationship and to offer far more added-value to clients.

We work with our clients as trusted advisors, peers, sounding boards and even friends, and the intel we now have access to on a ‘level 3’ client allows us to offer incredible insights to those clients.

Choosing apps? Stay focused!

Xero alone has an ecosystem that supports over 1,000 apps, so it can be pretty overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. We recommend being focused and very selective, so we work loosely with our clients to make sure they are only integrating the apps that really complement their business. 

We are creating an app stack – outlined below – that forms the core of our cloud accountancy toolkit and we tend to recommend using these as a starting point. They cover what we feel are the key areas of a finance function with each app having a primary use but also other uses.

We decided to limit ourselves to one app per finance function area, choosing apps that can be used in different areas as to avoid ‘app overwhelm’ with clients. However, when scoping our clients’ app requirements it is important to understand how other apps, with similar purposes, assist with their chosen processes as they may be a better match than those within our app stack.

Again, though, the most important message here is that the apps are being used properly and that the data they give you is being interpreted correctly. 

By Riaz Kala, associate director, Haines Watts Manchester

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